BOOK REVIEW: Insightful Analysis of the ‘Great JA Novel’


When you like something, it’s natural to learn as much as you can about it. Readers who admire “No-No Boy” by John Okada (1957) will therefore embrace the new anthology “John Okada: The Life & Rediscovered Work of the Author of No-No Boy,” edited by Frank Abe, Greg Robinson and Floyd Cheung (University of Washington, Seattle, 2018).

“No-No Boy” is often described as the definitive “Nisei Novel” and the “Great Japanese American Novel.” This new anthology makes the case for what Okada’s fans have known all along, that “No-No Boy” is one of the greatest American novels of the 20th century.

Its protagonist, Ichiro Yamada, returns home to Seattle after war’s end from a federal prison where has had been incarcerated for draft evasion. He is broken and he sees physically and emotionally broken people around him, the Japanese Americans who have spent the war years in concentration camps and military service.

He is full of rage and pain, struggles to understand and make his way in post-war America. His suffering has left him unable to accept the consolations of what would at one time may have been an ordinary life: he rejects opportunities for gainful employment and for lasting relationships that could have been fulfilling.